Where there is a will…

Jamaicans are again being urged to ensure that they prepare a last will and testament to prevent fights over any assets they leave behind when they die.

Since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit the island last March some local lawyers have reported seeing an uptick in the number of Jamaicans making wills, but they fear there are not enough people moving to ensure that family members do not war over the ‘dead lef’.

Attorney-at-law Michelle Thomas told the Jamaica Observer that she has seen a spike in requests to make wills over the last four months.

“Yes, people are becoming a bit more fearful and wary as it relates to death or whether or not they will live to see years to come. They are having more discussions about wills and how they go about distributing assets, should they die. What we are seeing, too, is a lot of people liquidating their assets,” said Thomas.

But, she argued that there is still scant regard for the importance of wills.

“I think people do not take it serious. It is very important especially when you have assets, children and a large family, and also if you have a spouse with children who might be entitled.

“People need to understand that we are living in some uncertain times… estate management is something that you should discuss with your attorney, just as how you discuss life insurance, other insurances and your pension,” added Thomas.

The attorney noted that putting a will in place prevents animosity and fights over ‘dead lef’ or assets of high monetary value, which, in its absence would be difficult to disburse.

She pointed to the case of 51-year-old Andrea Lowe-Garwood, who was fatally shot during a worship session at the Agape Christian Fellowship Church in Falmouth, Trelawny, on January 31 as one case where the fight over assets left by a deceased turned deadly.

“The genesis of the Trelawny case was [allegedly] ‘dead lef’. That can be a sour point and it can cause other issues and tensions which are long lasting; I find it very alarming what happens after those situations,” said Thomas.

“I think that is one of an attorney’s worst woes in practising because you have beneficiaries who come from all areas, and because there was a contemplation for them, it creates a lot of tension, drama and even death,” Thomas added.

“I would implore anybody that once you are looking about your businesses, deal with your estate, even go as far as telling someone about your wishes upon death – your likes and dislikes, because it makes transitioning easier for families and it creates certainty,” said Thomas.

Fellow attorney Sherry-Ann McGregor shared that view as she told the Observer that the worst case scenario occurs when a person dies intestate (without leaving a will), which would allow the authorities to know how the deceased’s real estate and personal property should be distributed.

“More people, who probably delayed taking care of it or needed to update it, have reached out to try and remedy that situation, and what I have received are requests to draft living wills, which are legally binding documents that will clearly outline your intent for your possessions. It explains how the [possessions] are supposed to be divided, which would protect the welfare of your children,” said McGregor.

Attorney-at-law Linton Gordon said his firm has also seen an uptick in the number of people making wills, with people between the ages of 30 and 50 leading the way.

“I do not know if it is connected to COVID-19 but since mid-last year there has been an increase among those persons. In terms of senior citizens, I haven’t seen any increase [although] there is always a higher level of will-makers in that category” said Gordon.

In the meantime, another attorney, Bert Samuels, told the Observer that while he has not seen an increase in the number of people making wills, it is a good idea for Jamaicans to make one.

“Just as how we want to get vaccinated we should get our wills in place. We want to do it when we are in good health,” said Samuels.

“What we have discovered is that some ailments cause people to be mentally and physically unable to sign a will or give instructions about a will. This usually relates to a person who is hospitalised on a ventilator and cannot sign a will.

“You also have older people who have dementia and the law does not allow those who do not have the mental capacity to do a will. If a will is done by a person and it is proven medically that they were not mentally capable, it will not stand in court,” noted Samuels.

He added: One of the most untidy affairs for any family is a person who has died without a will. In instances where the person has no children or is not married, they distribute the property to their brothers or sisters or parents. Making a will is very important, as it allows the person who owns property to live out their wishes as to who to inherit the assets.”

See reactions from Jamaicans in downtown Kingston to the plea to make a last will and testament here:

Many Jamaicans not convinced about the need to make a Will.

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